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Choice and Voice in the Classroom

If you read my previous post Motivation 101, you will recall that intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that drives someone to do something just for the sake of doing it. Extrinsic motivation pulls someone to act, only due to the reward offered. In education, we often rely on extrinsic motivation to get students to do their work. This is effective in SOME situations, but if we want our students to really be engaged, to think critically or to be creative, we must instill intrinsic motivation. So how do we do that if we aren’t miracle workers? Be providing CHOICE and VOICE.


In the Self-Determination Theory of motivation, individuals must feel a sense of autonomy in their work to be intrinsically motivated. Autonomy is the ability to think, feel and make decisions by oneself. Conversely, one may experience controlled motivation, in which an individual attempts to avoid punishment and/or seek out rewards and interjected regulation which means that their behavior and expectations are controlled by someone else. Much of the school system is controlled. I, too, lived in this fear as a teacher with students with high-stakes testing. I constantly felt like if I did not control everything, my students would be doomed. But this only ensured my students were performing average or just above, and many of them could have performed better if they were more motivated in the classroom. In the education setting, autonomy is providing students with the opportunity to be responsible for their own learning and the implementation of it.

So how can more choice be integrated into the classroom?

1. Ask students WHAT they want to learn. Many teachers must adhere to standards, but if you can find time to integrate what your students want to learn, you will maximize their interest. 100% guaranteed. This can be done in each unit, where you integrate that content into your lessons. It could also be done a “Passion Project,” “80/20” Time, or a Genius Hour. It is amazing to see how hard they will work when it is their passion. This concept was first introduced in companies like Google where they allowed their employees 20% time to work on whatever project interested them. Google found out that their employees were creating awesome things during this time. Additionally, teachers can allow choice in what students are reading or topics of papers they may write about.

2. Let students choose HOW they learn. As teachers we carefully craft the instruction we will provide to our students. From the high school setting, I see a lot of time spent preparing PowerPoints and presenting them to their students. As students, we often had many lectures taught to us as well. It is hard to break free from because it is familiar. But is it the best way to TEACH? Slowly, I have stepped back from it, but boy is it hard! We need to alter this process. We can provide students with videos that they can watch at their own pace, we can do lectures in short time frames, we can do station rotations where students experience different types of learning throughout the process and we can provide individual learning pathways.

3. Let students choose HOW they will show their learning Teachers spend much of their time planning how they will provide instruction, how they will allow their students to practice the work and how they are assessed. Often, this is one assignment that is assigned to every person in the class. Rather than providing one method to show understanding, students have a choice on how they show their understanding based on their own interest or ability (competence is another important part of motivation). It is funny cause at first this takes more planning on the teacher’s part trying to think of how to provide more choice in how the work is done. Overtime, students may ask you if they can do the assignment differently when that culture is established in your classroom. I assigned a one-size fits all assignment as the last assignment of remote learning. I was lacking some creativity at that point. I had a student email me and ask me if could make a PowerPoint instead of writing about the assignment. Now, as an AP teacher, I get that a student may not always have a choice of not writing because they need practice writing their DBQ and LEQ, but in this instance, the objective was not writing but to reflect on American history and pick a decade that they would have loved to live in, and they had to take in all variables, such as their gender, race, ethnicity, where they live etc. Her PowerPoint fit the objective and it turned out great.


Allowing for voice means that you are allowing students to express themselves but also allowing for some freedom in shaping the classroom environment and the students learning process. This is a vital part of motivation and engagement in the classroom.

Negotiable Rules Some rules are non-negotiable, whether they are school rules or rules that must exist for learning to occur, but are some of the rules in your classroom rules that you could let go of? Allowing students the ability to set rules in a classroom provides them with their own voice and more ownership of the learning environment. I bet they will even make rules that satisfy their teacher.

Literal Voice Allow students more opportunity to talk to their peers about their work, share their work, display their work, debate, write and learn how to take on someone else's voice.

Goal-Setting Allows students the ability to formulate their own goals for their learning which will provide a sense of ownership and increase motivation in the classroom. It is best to stick with SMART goals which will be described in more depth in another post!

Feedback Allowing students the opportunity to provide feedback to their teacher gives them a chance to voice their concerns or enjoyment of activities in the classroom.

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